Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011

Time: 7:00 pm- 10:00 pm

Place: Education 216

Showing: The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (starring hunky Noah Wyle)

Advice from a Texan Yankee in McGill’s Library Court

Whoa! It’s the last piece of advice from Dr. Cook! Big thanks to Justin Soles for this great article! Make sure to read the rest of the series in the posts below. What do you guys think? Anyone surprised by any of these tips? Leave comments!

By Justin Soles  

5. Expect to Work Hard!

Dr. Cook credits her success both as a library administrator with 30 years of experience at Texas A&M, and as a researcher associated closely with the internationally-renowned LibQual evaluation system, to her work ethic: “There’s no success that didn’t come from hard work.” Dr. Cook stressed that landing a job in a library, archive or information center is just the first step in your career and that those of us who will go the farthest in the profession will also be the ones who work the hardest in making the most of their opportunity.

Dr. Cook pointed to her own experience advancing through the ranks of the Texas A&M library system as evidence. Even when she was faced with a job that wasn’t particularly interesting or challenging, she tried to learn as much about that particular field and/or department as possible. This information became invaluable later once she moved into management, since she had in-depth knowledge of what every library department did, how it worked and who in it did (or didn’t) work hard .

Although Dr. Cook feels that the future in librarianship is bright, she cautioned that you will inevitably face certain challenges and have disappointments in your career. When these happen, she suggested that you need to accept them and move on by keeping them in perspective: just as rain clouds are always followed by sunshine, the disappointments you’ll face in our career will be followed by professional successes that may take you places that you never expected to go!

Advice from a Texan Yankee in McGill’s Library Court

By Justin Soles

Guys, we’ve got 80% of Dr. Cook’s advice! That’s like an A- or something! Check in at the end of the week for the final instalment of the Advice from a Texan Yankee in McGill’s Library Court series.

4. Care About Your People

Although it’s somewhat clichéd, a library is more than a static collection of books: it is also a collection of people, including librarians, cataloging technicians, shelvers, webmasters, desk staff and possibly library volunteers. Although this group may sometimes act like a dysfunctional family, Dr. Cook pointed out that your people skills are just as (if not more) important to the smooth functioning of a library, archive or information center as your technical and managerial skills.

In terms of the ‘soft-skills’ worth developing, Dr. Cook suggested focusing on effectively listening to your staff and users. She also recommended getting out of your office to regularly meet your staff and users in their “homes” since neither of these groups will actively seek you out until a crisis has developed.

However, the most important soft-skill that Dr. Cook feels that librarians must have can be the most difficult to maintain: caring genuinely about your staff and showing them that you do care about them as people. As anyone who’s taken Information Agency Management (GLIS 620) learns, factors like union rules/collective agreements, arguments and grudges over promotions, budget/staff cuts, flextime benefits and holiday/vacation schedules can affect library staff and lead to a toxic work environment. Regardless of the day-to-day struggles and problems, Dr. Cook pointed out that at the end of the day “…you really do have to care about your people…you just can’t fake this stuff.”

LWB: Donate books to a school in Haiti!

LWB McGill is looking for books to donate to a high school in Haiti. A professor from the Education Department at McGill is working with the faculty at this school, it came to our attention that they have no library to support their students! This professor is going to Haiti in December with two PhD candidates and they are bringing donated materials with them.

Materials that would be of the most use are French language books at a high school reading level. Specifically textbooks, or materials concerning the Caribbean are of particular interest. Please, used books are great, but only high quality, current materials! Please contact


#21 SIS Kids Are Doing It For Themselves: Meet Alex!

1. Name: Alex Amar

2. Year: MLIS II. Or 2011. Or 2012. It depends on what the question means…

3. Stream: Knowledge Management

4. Hometown: Boston. Or Montreal. Or Ottawa. It depends on what you mean by hometown…

5. What is your favourite book? I’m not sure, but I think I’ve memorized-by-osmosis The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark and Inherit The Wind.

6. Do you own an eReader? If so, is it cool? No, which is how I know they are.

7. If you weren’t in library school, what would you be doing RIGHT NOW? Probably eating lunch. Oh, and I’d probably have pursued Communications into a MA… or gone to Law School… or drifted into some kind of media consultation/research or broadcasting in Ottawa.

8. What is your dream job? Pundit. Professor of film studies. Curator of a collection of pulp and B-movies. Something at LEGO. ALL AT ONCE.

… that said, I really like my current job, as a Library Assistant at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

9. What is your dream sandwich? Delicious and emotionally fulfilling. Also, it would probably feature garlic and Morbier.

10. What is your favourite thing about living in Montreal? The sense of danger in the winter. The soft glow and smell of fresh-fallen snow. The weird little sub-cities.

11. Living or dead, who would be at your imaginary potlatch? 2000 CHOM L’Esprit winners Pigeon-Hole, Patrick Stewart, my high school debating coaches, Dan Harmon, Grant Naylor, Nick Offerman, John Woo, Stan Lee, Allie Brosh, Nick Cave, Randall Munroe, and friends from SIS.

Advice from a Texan Yankee in McGill’s Library Court

By Justin Soles

This piece of advice from McGill’s Trenholme Dean of Libraries, Dr. Colleen Cook, is the third of five. Be sure to check out what else Dr. Cook has to share with us fledgling professionals in posts below!

3. Be Prepared to Make Decisions

Dr. Cook reiterated what Prof. Bouthillier said during SIS orientation: regardless of where you work or what you end up doing, you will be expected to make decisions. Although this might sound scary, Dr. Cook provided the following advice regarding decision-making:

  • Not making a decision is the same as making a decision…and the worst-case scenario might be to leave things as they are.
  • If you make a decision and it turns out to be wrong, be prepared to admit that you were wrong and then make it right.
  • No decision is permanent; you can always undo a decision that you made.
  • Regardless of the magnitude of the decision, always strive to avoid “doing harm” to anyone, including your users, your staff and yourself!

Dr. Cook also provided some advice about developing your own decision-making style. In her case, she watched how leaders at Texas A&M made their decisions (both good and bad), and was also challenged by her peers when it came to her own decisions. As a result, Dr. Cook’s decision making style is inclusive: she’ll listen to as many views as possible so her decision will be based on what she has heard tempered against her experience. If it turns out that the decision was wrong, she’ll admit it and then try to undo it.

Although Dr. Cook had the benefit of working with and learning from some great leaders, her advice regarding decisions is best summed up as follows: “There’s no decision in a library that can’t be undone…except maybe the amount of steel in the walls. And even then, you can always add to the [building’s] load-bearing capacity.”

Advice from a Texan Yankee in McGill’s Library Court

By Justin Soles

This piece of advice from McGill’s Trenholme Dean of Libraries, Dr. Colleen Cook, is the second of five. Thank you to Justin Soles for sharing this wonderful information! Check out Dr. Cook’s first tip and then stay tuned for more this week!

2. “Learn to Add!”

Dr. Cook notes that financial management is one of the most critical functions within a library: it’s what maintains the collection and allows services to be offered by the library, archive or information center to its users. Yet, she feels that financial management, budgeting and negotiation skills don’t seem to be taught well (if at all) to aspiring librarians today.

Dr. Cook’s admonition above (yes, that’s a direct quotation) is meant to help you avoid “… getting bamboozled…” by salespeople and vendors in the library industry. Knowing your library or information center’s revenues and expenses will help you focus on what is important and also provide some perspective when it comes to assessing the relevant importance of different projects. As Dr. Cook says, “The number of zeros…matters. A $300 expense is different from a $3,000 expense, which is altogether different from a $30,000 or $300,000 expense.”

Although Dr. Cook’s advice was focused mainly on library expenses, she also touched on fundraising as a revenue source, which is especially important in a University library. She said that although fundraising was a tiring and something thankless job for library managers, it could also be very rewarding: “…when the opportunity is right, it’s a win-win situation. The library wins and the donor gets the feeling that they’ve donated to something bigger than themselves.”

Advice from a Texan Yankee in McGill’s Library Court

By Justin Soles

When you enter Dr. Colleen Cook’s office, you are struck by a sense of order. Not the hurried “I’ve-got-someone-outside-the-door-my-place-is-a-mess-and-I-need-to-cleanup” order, nor the anal-retentive order imposed by someone who ensures that their desk materials are separated by a maximum tolerance of 0.5mm. No, the unhurried order evident in Dr. Cook’s office is more subtle and belies her organized mind and her long experience in keeping things organized – which is exactly what you would expect from McGill’s newest Trenholme Dean of Libraries.

However, after talking to Dr. Cook for a few minutes, you might be surprised just how totally at home this transplanted Texan seems here in Montreal, especially considering the majority of her 30 years of experience were spent at one of her alma-maters, Texas A&M University. And the more you talk to her, the more you see that this familiarity is born from a deep wellspring of experience that we fledgling librarians, archivists and knowledge managers can all benefit from.

It was the exciting prospect of drawing on this experience that lead me to meet Dr. Cook to discuss her life and career, as well as to get some advice for those of us thinking about possible careers in our field. Dr. Cook was very generous in sharing with me some of her stories, experiences and thoughts, which I’ve distilled into the following five points. Although Dr. Cook cautioned me that her experience and advice was generally limited to academic libraries (and large university libraries, at that), there is something all of us can relate to and take away from Dr. Cook’s observations and experience.

1. Be Prepared to Move Around

Though Dr. Cook advised that “I would never recommend anyone follow my career path”, her first piece of advice was that you should be prepared to move around, both in terms of moving between different libraries/archives/information centers, as well as moving around within an organization. She explained that this type of experience allows you to see how things are done elsewhere so you can get ideas and see what works and what doesn’t in practice.

For example, Dr. Cook spent time early in her career working with library directors who had “…particularly liberal views on how to run libraries…” and wanted to experiment. Although not all of the experiments worked out, these experiences showed her what library management theories did and didn’t work when they were put into practice.

Similarly, Dr. Cook took advantage of opportunities to move laterally within the Texas A&M library system to learn the various parts of the organization and see how they worked together. Although this didn’t translate into a stable work situation, she credits this strategy with helping her learn most of the parts of the university’s library operations and preparing her to take the reins when she became Dean.

Dr. Cook has 4 more pieces of advice for fresh information professionals, so stay tuned! 

#20 SIS Kids Are Doing It For Themselves: Meet Veronica!

1. Name:
 Veronica Ramshaw

2. Year: MLIS I

3. Stream: Librarianship

4. Hometown: Guelph, ON

5. What is your favourite book?
 My favourite book of all time is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. However, I have quite a love for pretty much anything written by Douglas Adams, and Jane Eyre wins out in the category of Classics.

6. Do you own an eReader? If so, is it cool?
 I have an iPad app with a few too many eReader apps… Kindle, Stanza, iBooks… and so far, all the books I’ve got on it are ones I also own. I’m actually reading Game of Thrones in hard copy and on my iPad right now, reading from one when I don’t have the other.

7. If you weren’t in library school, what would you be doing RIGHT NOW? I would still be trying to find work in film production in Montreal. It’s notoriously difficult to get your foot in the door of the film production industry, and all my networking would help in Toronto or maybe even LA, but not here.

8. What is your dream job? My Dream Job would be film and media librarian/archivist at the NFB, a film company or with a tv network.

9. What is your dream sandwich? I have been eating so many of La Prep’s Chicken Pesto sandwiches you’d think that was my dream sandwich! But no, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to sandwich making (pasta making on the other hand…) so my dream sandwich is really just a good tuna melt.

10. What is your favourite thing about living in Montreal? History so old it’s practically palpable. Not exactly a feeling you get in Guelph or Toronto… also, I love living somewhere that actually gives me an opportunity to use my french on a regular basis!

11. Living or dead, who would be at your imaginary potlatch? Terry Pratchet, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Freddie Mercury, Joss Whedon, my fiance and both of our families.

Also, check out my blog!

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.